EU court raps Britain for air pollution

A pollution monitor in Cavendish Square, near Oxford Street and Oxford Circus, London. [Kauka Jarvi / Shutterstock]

The EU Court of Justice on Thursday (4 March) admonished Britain for air pollution over urban areas including London that “persistently” breached European Union levels for nitrogen-dioxide associated with heavy vehicle traffic.

The case covered the years 2010 to 2017 and stemmed from a European Commission complaint lodged in 2018, when Britain was still an EU member, thus giving the court jurisdiction.

It found that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels over 16 urban zones including Greater London and Greater Manchester – Britain’s two biggest urban agglomerations – “systematically” exceeded EU air quality targets set out in a 2008 EU directive and not enough was done to reduce them.

Despite leaving the EU last year, Britain was ordered to come into compliance with the EU standard. If it does not, it could be fined.

However an environmental group that hailed the verdict, ClientEarth, said a fine was unlikely, given Brexit.

The NGO has won three legal cases in Britain over air quality, including one in December in which a coroner concluded that air pollution had contributed to the death of a nine-year-old girl suffering asthma.

UK's clean air drive undermined by Brexit, campaigners say

Britain’s latest clean air strategy sets significantly tighter air pollution limits than the EU’s, but could lack the regulatory teeth to enforce them after Brexit. EURACTIV’s media partner Climate Home News reports.

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